Friday, March 13, 2015

A Brief Review of Arguments for the Existence of God (Part 2): Cosmological Arguments

Cosmological arguments

As with those based on the notion of design, cosmological arguments seek to argue for the existence of God based on what we experience of the world and universe we live in. The central aim of cosmological arguments is to establish what CAUSED everything to be here, or how the world and the universe began.

Cosmological arguments are attempting to address the problem of an infinite regress. This occurs when we have no starting-point for something. For example, in terms of the origin of the world we might ask where everything came from. If we are told that everything came from x, we would then ask where x came from. If x came from y, then we would logically ask where y came from, and so on and so on. Therefore, in order to stop this never-ending sequence we need an uncaused-cause of everything.

The Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-74 CE) is known for examining two versions of the cosmological argument. In one he argued that every event has a cause, and this leads us to posit a first cause of everything. In another version he argued that things only move because they are moved by something else; leading us to seek the first mover of everything. Aquinas' cosmological arguments were basically intended to show that in order for anything to be here, it requires the presence of something existing before anything else did, and being a Christian he believed the world is only be here because God created it.

Here are the two cosmological arguments Aquinas set out in more detail:

  • The argument from FIRST CAUSES: Whatever exists is here because something else has caused it to be here (for example, children are here because of their parents). Things cannot cause themselves to exist (for example, children cannot give birth to themselves). There cannot be a never-ending (infinite) chain of causes. God is the first cause of everything here.
  • The argument from MOTION: Things move (or become something else), because something causes it to do this. It is impossible for motion in the universe to have always been happening, so it must have begun somewhere (and somehow). There cannot be a never-ending (infinite) chain of events. God is the first mover (cause) of everything.

Naturalistic evolution works from the premise that the world and the universe had a first cause, this being known as a Singularity (aka ‘Big Bang’); We should also note that logically for naturalistic evolution to work, this present world and universe cannot always have existed.

Summary: Key features of cosmological arguments

  • Nothing happens in the world without a reason.
  • Events in the world have been caused by something else.
  • Things in the world and the universe did not cause themselves to come into existence.
  • To deal with the problem of an infinite regress the world and the universe must have a first cause.
  • The reason why the world and the universe are here is because of God.
  • Cosmological arguments are based on comparing the way things work in the world, to the way things must be in the universe (analogy).

Evidence in support of cosmological arguments

  • We can see from our own experience that things happen in the world because something else has caused them to happen.
  • That we are here because of our parents, and they are here because of theirs etc., is an example of something which cannot have an infinite regress. Life has not always been here. Something must have caused humans to be here.
  • Science tells us that the world had a starting point (The 'Big-bang').
  • Modern cosmology posits that stars are moving out and that the universe is expanding. This suggests it had a starting point.

Debates about cosmological arguments

One of the biggest problems with cosmological arguments is that they appear to be self-defeating. If we say that EVERYTHING must have a cause, and that nothing can exist without having been caused by something else, then what about God who is said to be an uncaused causer? This seems to leave the question begging: 'If God caused everything, then who caused God?' In order words, why construct an argument on the basis that everything needs a cause, and then argue that the answer to how the world and universe got here is an uncaused cause (i.e. God)? This is contrary to the logic of the argument. If we say that God is uncaused, then why not the world and universe too?

Another problem for cosmological argument is that scientific explanations for the origins of life do not require the existence of God to explain why anything is here. In fact, it seems the more 'science' works to explain the world around us, the less we need of God. For example, in the past God has often been used to bridge gaps in our scientific knowledge (aka God of the gaps) such as praying and offering gifts to God to ensure a good harvest, or to get pregnant. However now 'science' has shown us that it is good soil and the right fertilizer that will maximise our crop yield, and ovulation tests and IVF now help women to get pregnant.

Yet for all that science informs us about the world and universe we live in, it cannot tell us everything about it. For instance, modern cosmological theories of the origins of life argue that the Singularity which caused the 'Big-bang' was the product of events we can know nothing about. This is because we are unable to 'see' them because they happened prior to anything else coming into existence. So if in reality we are speculating (or making a best-guess) about events prior to the 'Big-bang', this means the possibility of God's existence must remain open, and as such this is why some theologians say science tells us how life began, but God’s existence explains why it did.

A Brief Review of Arguments for the Existence of God (Part 3): Morality and Religion

1 comment:

Rumpelstiltskin Jones said...

"If we say that EVERYTHING must have a cause..."

Sure, if you say that. However, St. Thomas does not say that, nor is it any part of his argument. What St. Thomas argues is that all knowledge begins in the senses, and that every effect we observe with our senses is caused by another. But if there were not something existing that was not itself an effect (i.e. was not caused by another), yet caused the existence in these other things, we would never come to any ground of those things' existence. Therefore, we are forced to posit a being which causes but is itself uncaused (which, not being an effect, is beyond the reach of our senses).

Note that the argument from motion, the First Way, is just a special case of the Second Way, which is really Thomas' primary argument, and the one I just outlined for that reason. He puts the argument from motion first in his Summas because motion and change are more manifest to our senses than rest or changelessness.

"If we say that God is uncaused, then why not the world and universe too?"

Because what we are looking for is the first cause of the universe (i.e. "things"), and it would be nonsensical to say that the first cause of the universe is the universe.